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British Industrial History

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Engineers and Mechanics Encyclopedia 1839: Railways: Introduction

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RAILWAY or Railroad, and Tramroad are narrow tracks of rails, or plates of iron, wood, or other tenacious material, made with very smooth or level surfaces, and laid down with great solidity and truth, to the required planes; so that the wheels of carriages may meet with the least resistance that is practicable in rolling over them, and thus reduce, as much as possible, the power required to move a given load; or to move the greatest load by a given power; or to move a given load at the highest velocity.

Rail and tramroads, however, form only one part of the machinery, of transport; the carriages which roll over them are expressly, designed and fitted for that peculiar office, and are also an essential part of the same mechanism. It is, therefore, not our intention to separate them (as is usually done,) into distinct subjects, but to treat of them in their combined and only useful state. For the same reasons we shall include, under this article, descriptive accounts of the various locomotive carriages for the common road; because these machines require only a slight alteration in the tire of their wheels, to adapt them to railways and those of user readers who, for want of sufficient consideration of the subject, may leave formed an unfavourable opinion of their capabilities, owing to their sluggish pace in passing over loose or hilly ground, would be amazed at the velocity of motion and power of draught they would achieve, if transferred to a railway.

It has been ascertained, that the resistance to the motion of a carriage upon a good railway, is not more than a tenth part of that upon a well-made common road; consequently, a carriage that is capable of merely dragging itself along the latter, would draw many times its own weight at a much greater velocity one the former.

The ardour and spirit wide which the people, not only of our own favoured country, but those of Europe, and the more enlightened portion of those of Asia, Africa, and America, have set about improving their internal communications, by the adoption of iron railroads, render every circumstance relating to them, that has in the slightest degree contributed to their present excellence, an object of deep interest; not only to the philosopher and the mechanic, but to the thinking part of the public generally. The two former are quite sensible that, notwithstanding all that has been effected, much more to left that will be accomplished; and that only a little more practical experience is requisite, to enable us to double our present locomotive power.

Viewing the subject in this light, it is our intention to give an historical account of all the numerous inventions that have any bearing upon the subject, and especially such as leave been, or are now protected by patent-right; in order, First, that engineers and inventors may be informed of the precise nature and extent of those improvements for which exclusive privileges have been fairly acquired by patentees; Second, that the inventions of the latter may be fostered and encouraged by public adoption, as far as they may be meritorious and beneficial; Third, that such propositions as are erroneous its principle, or inefficient its operation, may be corrected and improved upon; Fourth, that "honour may be given to those to whom honour is due;" for in this line of invention there has been an unusual degree of deceitful quackery, and consequently of gross injustice to original inventors; to right whom, in the public estimation, no other advocacy is necessary, than a simple chronological statement of public documents, the authenticity of which is unquestionable, and which we propose to give in the following pages.

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